Aircraft museum’s project to restore its Dragon to flying condition

PUBLISHED: 09:51 23 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:55 23 July 2020

A de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide in flight. Picture: supplied by de Havilland Aircraft Museum

A de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide in flight. Picture: supplied by de Havilland Aircraft Museum

Supplied by de Havilland Aircraft Museum

Continuing our curator’s look at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum’s special attractions and hidden secrets, Alistair Hodgson tells the story of the aviation museum’s Dragon Rapide.

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum's Dragon Rapide undergoing restoration. Picture: supplied by de Havilland Aircraft MuseumThe de Havilland Aircraft Museum's Dragon Rapide undergoing restoration. Picture: supplied by de Havilland Aircraft Museum

The strictures of lockdown have been hard for all of us, and it’s hit our work at the museum particularly badly because we had to stop all restoration work on our aircraft.

These projects won’t be able to start again until it’s deemed safe for people to work together again in close proximity to one another.

That’s why we’re looking at one of our very special restorations: the project to return a de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide to flying condition.

The Dragon Rapide was designed in 1933 as a faster and more comfortable version of de Havilland’s earlier DH.84 Dragon, a twin-engined 12-seater biplane used by the early airlines.

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum's Dragon Rapide undergoing restoration. Picture: supplied by de Havilland Aircraft MuseumThe de Havilland Aircraft Museum's Dragon Rapide undergoing restoration. Picture: supplied by de Havilland Aircraft Museum

The Rapide offered a faster cruising speed and greater range, and was actually sold to several airline operators before the first prototype had even flown.

The Dragon Rapide was in production for 10 years and over that time 728 aircraft were built.

They were hugely popular with their operators, found their way into every corner of the world, and were used by the RAF (as the Dominie) for training purposes.

Over the years I have known many people – my own father included – who fondly remember the Rapide as the first aircraft type in which they ever flew: several Rapides are still flying to this day.

Our own Rapide has had a very chequered history.

It was built as a Dominie during the war but was not required by the RAF, so it was passed between many airlines including Iraqi Air, Gibraltar Airways and Aero Sud in Algeria.

It it also spent time in Belgium, France and at Shorts Aircraft in Rochester.

It arrived at the museum around 25 years ago and the bold decision was made to get it flying again.

The painstaking work of the restoration team has to be monitored every step of the way by the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure that the work is done to the highest possible standards.

Completion is still a long way off and, of course, all work has stopped for the time being.

But we all look forward to welcoming the restoration team back some day soon, and eventually seeing this venerable old aeroplane return to the skies once more.

• The de Havilland Aircraft Museum at Salisbury Hall at London Colney has reopened to visitors.

For more on the museum, visit www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk


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